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Supervisor Russell delivers 2019 State of the Town

03/07/2019 2:00 PM |

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell delivered his 10th annual “State of the Town” address Wednesday night at Town Hall.

During the hour-long address, the supervisor touched on many issues, re-issuing the cry for affordable housing and addressing the impacts of tourism on quality of life.

After highlighting the town’s accomplishments in 2018, he outlined goals for 2019. Here’s a glimpse at what was discussed:

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Three years ago, Mr. Russell set a goal to address the housing crisis on the East End by creating at least 50 units of affordable housing.

Construction on Vineyard View is expected to break ground later this spring, the supervisor said, but initiatives to bring more affordable housing opportunities to the area must continue.

The supervisor re-issued his 2016 goal of creating 50 more affordable units within the next three years.

“We should have no illusions. Fifty apartments is not a lot,” he said. Fifty more units combined with the Vineyard View project will only address a “small portion of the critical need” for housing, he added.

The supervisor also expressed support for proposed state legislation that would allow a 0.5 percent increase in the real estate transfer tax, which currently funds the Community Preservation Fund, to create an affordable housing fund.

Though the measure has not yet been passed in Albany, the supervisor said he plans on discussing specifics with state lawmakers.

TOURISM, TRAFFIC AND QUALITY OF LIFE

Mr. Russell touted securing $160,000 in fines against Vineyard 48 as a win for residents, whose quality of life had been impacted for years.

He said that while the town supports tourism, there needs to be a shift from “promoting” to “accommodating” visitors to the area.

The town will continue adding traffic control officers to mitigate traffic, in addition to meeting with Riverhead town officials and other agencies to address the seemingly unsolvable problem.

The supervisor again proposed weight limits for Peconic Bay Boulevard in Mattituck.

“Traffic there is just as bad as it is on the Main Road and on the North Road. It’s a residential street, and we need to do something,” he said.

In addition, to mitigate the crowds, the supervisor said officials are working with businesses in an effort to discourage party buses and limos, which he said impact local roads and quality of life.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to support the numbers we’re seeing,” he said, noting that several wineries have already adopted the policy. “It’s worked well for them. I’m asking all other venues to use them as a model and duplicate what they’ve done.”

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

To stimulate small business development, town officials met recently with the Empire State Development group to discuss programs that could fund grants to small businesses for expansion, start-up costs and other needs.

“The council has difficulty administering small grants,” the supervisor said, noting that the town’s own Economic Development Committee could help administer grant money.

He hopes to streamline the permitting process by initiating a full review of the site plan process and promote the development of existing structures through potential changes to the “bulk schedule” for existing buildings.

“It’s in our best interest to promote investment in that inventory,” he said.

AGRICULTURE

The Agricultural Advisory Committee is working with town officials to modernize the town code’s allowed uses for agricultural properties.

“People might not be aware of the fact that on farms, you can’t produce or process what you sell. That’s a new market, that’s a new trend, that’s a new necessity,” Mr. Russell said.

The town will also review lot size requirements for structures on farms. “We want to see if we can ease those restrictions for farmers who, in many instances, need more structures on less land, particularly if we’re trying to keep the farmland farmed,” he said.

LAND USE, PLANNING

The town purchased a 10-acre property on Carroll Avenue in Peconic, just west of Cochran Park that the supervisor hopes can be developed to fill a void in community recreation, such as an indoor swimming facility.

“We need to be candid. The town doesn’t have the resources to build and we just don’t have the management staff to maintain,” such a facility, Mr. Russell said.

He plans to issue a Request for Proposals in the coming months to seek a developer for the site.

The Town Board also recently approved a six-month moratorium on issuing approvals and new permits for parcels along Main Road in Mattituck between Bay Avenue and Pike Street as they await the completion of the comprehensive plan later this year and the results of a traffic study of the Love Lane intersection.

ENVIRONMENT

Mr. Russell called on the state to declare the overpopulation of deer as a public health crisis.

“This dialogue in Albany has to change,” he said, adding that culling has to be a part of the solution. The town’s deer management program has now surpassed 2,224 deer harvested, the supervisor announced during the address.

A project to bring a solar array to the town’s animal shelter is also moving forward and the town board approved a law to prohibit the clearing of woodlands for solar arrays.

In recent months, the town had to transition from single-stream recycling to a three-stream approach. “We had to act quickly,” in response to a changing market, the supervisor said. “It went very smoothly.”

CAPITAL PROJECTS

Last year, Southold Town purchased the former Capital One bank building located at the corner of Youngs Avenue and Main Road for $3.1 million. Renovations to transform the former bank into the new town Justice Court are estimated at $1.5 million, the supervisor said. “That had been an issue for some years, to separate Justice Court from the rest of the functions of town government,” he said, also pointing to other benefits, such as the 93 parking spaces at the site that will now stay in the public’s hands.

Photo caption: Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell delivers his State of the Town address Wednesday night. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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